The Oscar-winning film producer and environmentalist David Puttnam has announced his resignation from the House of Lords over concerns the UK government is on a “path to self-inflicted disaster”.
Lord Puttnam, a Labour party member, was nominated to the Lords by Tony Blair in 1997 and has served on a number of select committees focusing on broadcast regulation, media plurality and digital communications.
In his retirement speech on Friday, Puttnam warned of “multiple dangers” facing British democracy and accused Boris Johnson of running a “populist government that’s trampling on held rights and conventions, with the sole purpose of tightening its grip on power”.
Puttnam pointed to the government’s plans to widen the Official Secrets Act, along with its proposed elections bill aimed at making photo ID mandatory at polling stations, as recent examples of creeping authoritarianism.
His main concern though centred on the government’s lacklustre response to a report he co-authored as chair of the select committee on democracy and digital technologies in June 2020.
In it, the committee warned political power was being “ceded to a few unelected and unaccountable digital corporations” and that a “pandemic of ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’” had taken hold.
“If allowed to flourish, these counterfeit truths will result in the collapse of public trust, and without trust democracy as we know it will simply decline into irrelevance,” the report said.
The committee offered 45 recommendations for the government to implement that would update electoral law for the online age and create a more digitally literate society.
“The ‘resurrection’ of our capacity to trust each other, and the systems through which we receive information – the same information on which we base many of the most important decisions of our lives – is fundamental to our survival …The only accurate way to describe the government’s response to our report is ‘lamentable’,” Puttnam said.
A resident of West Cork in Ireland for more than 20 years, Puttnam also pointed to the “pig-ignorance” displayed by MPs during Brexit negotiations towards the Irish border as another reason for his departure from politics, and said he was “embarrassed” by the country Britain had become since leaving the EU.
“Mirroring the anxieties of many of those angry Brexiteers in 2016, I feel I’ve had my country of birth, and the values I believed it to represent, stolen from me … I find myself embarrassed by what, on an almost daily basis, I see it becoming – my old enemy Rupert Murdoch’s dream made real. He never liked Britain, and he’s kind of won, he’s helped remake it in his own malevolent image,” he said.